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Can Congress End the Cuba Embargo? Many Republicans Want the Embargo to Fall

A left-right coalition, supported by the president and public opinion, could successfully push Congress to end the Cuba embargo.

Many establishment-wing Republican presidential hopefuls (but not Rand Paul) slammed the president's move to restore ties with Cuba. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

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A left-right coalition, supported by the president and public opinion, could successfully push Congress to end the Cuba embargo.

Can Republicans nostalgic for the Cold War block President Obama from taking executive actions to improve US diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba? Could a Republican-led Congress vote to end the US embargo? Some Republican leaders were quick to denounce President Obama’s announcement that the United States was restoring ties with Cuba. But how many divisions do these Cold War dead-enders control?

On whether Republicans can follow through on threats to block the president, Associated Press is skeptical:

Opponents of President Barack Obama’s sudden move to reestablish ties with Cuba has little chance of scuttling his effort in Congress.
[. . .]
But even if they were to pass sweeping legislation to stop what Obama wants to do, he could veto it, and they are not likely to have the votes to override a veto.
[. . .]
Republicans will face pressure from businesses and the farm industry – eyeing opportunities for commerce in Cuba – not to stand in the way of expanded ties.

The Chamber of Commerce spent heavily in the midterm elections, investing $35 million to elect business-minded, predominantly Republican lawmakers. Its president, Thomas J. Donohue, said Wednesday that Obama’s actions “will go a long way in allowing opportunities for free enterprise to flourish.”

The DNC noted that many establishment-wing Republican presidential hopefuls (but not Rand Paul!) slammed the president’s move to restore ties. But, as AP noted:

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who also went to Cuba to accompany [Alan] Gross home, said Obama’s move should not be seen as a concession. “My sense is that most of my colleagues feel that we’re long past due” in moderating the US stance on Cuba.

House Speaker John Boehner joined the dead-ender chorus of denunciation. But will Boehner be able to control the Republican rank and file? A 2009 CBS/New York Times poll found a plurality of Republicans (60 percent of Americans, overall) thought all Americans should be allowed to travel to Cuba.

Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz said the President’s move didn’t go far enough:

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), meanwhile, questioned why any restrictions would remain on travel to Cuba for Americans.

“I think there is an issue of freedom,” Chaffetz, the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a phone interview with The Washington Post.

“It’s amazing to me, post-Cold War, that the United States of America will not allow me to travel to Cuba,” he added. “I think we should allow all Americans to make those choices. You can travel to North Korea, you can travel to some pretty awful places. Americans should be able to make those decisions all by themselves.”

Illinois Republican Rep. Rodney Davis [IL-13] praised the President’s move:

US Rep. Rodney Davis hailed an Obama administration move to normalize relations with Cuba, saying the shift has the potential to be good for the Cuban people and for American agriculture.

“What I hope this brings to the American people is the ability to trade with a country that is craving our products and craving assistance from our agricultural sector,” the Taylorville Republican said Wednesday. “Illinois stands to gain from leaps and bounds with the ability to sell our crops. The terms of purchasing and selling products are changed in this decision by the president. In the past Cuba would have to pay in advance before the product got there. From what I’m reading there’s been some modifications that allows for more normalized trade relations. That really helps out Illinois agriculture.”

Recall that a left-right coalition led by Republican Rep. Justin Amash and Democratic Rep. John Conyers almost succeeded in passing a post-Snowden restriction on NSA blanket surveillance against the policy of the administration and the House Republican leadership. A similar left-right coalition supported by the president and public opinion could successfully push Congress to end the Cuba embargo. The Congressional Progressive Caucus – almost half the Democrats in the new House – is fully onboard:

“The president has laid out a promising path forward and now it is up to Congress to act. Congress must lift the trade embargo and normalize travel between our two nations, which are only 90 miles apart. The Congressional Progressive Caucus looks forward to working with President Obama and members of Congress who want to stabilize relations between the U.S. and Cuba.”

You can urge your representatives to support President Obama’s call for repeal of the embargo here.